The suspects are accused of providing logistical support to the perpetrators – the Said brothers and Chérif Kouachi, and their accomplice Amedy Coulibaly – and face charges of participation in a criminal terrorist association.
If found guilty, many of the accused face sentences of up to 20 years. At least one risk of being sentenced to life.
Eleven of the suspects will appear in court – 10 of them behind bulletproof glass. Three others, who traveled to Syria in the days before the attacks began, will be tried in absentia.
Hayat Boumedienne, wife of Amedy Coulibaly, is one of those tried in absentia.
Three days of violence
A total of 17 people were killed in the attacks, which took place in the French capital over three days in January 2015.
Twelve of those who died were shot when the Kouachi brothers forcibly entered the Charlie Hebdo building and opened fire during its editorial meeting on January 7.
Among the victims were the magazine’s editor, Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, several cartoonists and columnists, and a protection officer tasked with protecting Charb, who had been the target of threats following the magazine’s publication in 2006, of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Depictions of the prophet of Islam are considered blasphemous by many Muslims. The illustrations – originally published by a Danish newspaper in 2005 – prompted brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi to attack the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
A policeman, Ahmed Merabet, was shot dead in the street near the magazine’s headquarters as the attackers fled the scene.
The next day, January 8, policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe was shot dead by Coulibaly in the southern suburbs of Paris in Montrouge.
On January 9, Coulibaly took several people hostage in a kosher supermarket in the eastern suburbs of Paris at Porte de Vincennes. Four hostages were killed. Coulibaly was killed by police when they entered to end the siege and save 15 other hostages.
The Kouachi brothers were shot dead by police in a separate operation in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris, on the same day.
The trial, which takes place in a context of enhanced security at the Paris Criminal Court, is expected to last 49 days, with 144 witnesses called to testify.
French media have called the trial “historic,” but it also risks reopening a wound in the French national psyche.
Special galleries have been opened for the public to watch the proceedings, which will be broadcast live on giant screens.
On Tuesday, Charlie Hebdo announced plans to repost the controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in its latest edition, which was released on Wednesday.
In a statement, the magazine linked the publication of the cartoons to the trial, describing them as “evidence.” Cartoons, he said, “are part of history, and we cannot rewrite history, nor erase it”.
The Parisian weekly, founded in 1970, is famous for its provocative caricatures and daring resignations of politicians, public figures and religious symbols of all faiths.
Speaking from Lebanon on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron defended the decision to repost the cartoons, saying the French had “the freedom to blaspheme”.
“In France, there is also a freedom to blaspheme which is linked to the freedom of conscience. So, from where I am, I am there to protect all these freedoms, ”Macron said.
“I don’t have to comment on the choice of a journalist. I must just say that in France, we can criticize the rulers and we can blaspheme. ”
The latest edition of Charlie Hebdo also pays tribute to the employees killed in the 2015 attack.
Melissa Bell, Eva Tapiero, Pierre Bairin reported from Paris, Zamira Rahim wrote in London.